Not unlike last week’s opponent, there’s an all-or-nothing feel among many sports fans when it comes to Philadelphia.
Love ‘em or hate ‘em. There’s not much room in between.
Love lost for the Eagles in Tampa Bay is minimal – perhaps nonexistent – aside from those transplanted from that region of the northeast. Philadelphia rose up the ranks of most disliked NFL franchises among Bucs fans at the turn of the millennium. It began with 2000’s 21-3 NFC Wild Card loss in Philadelphia on New Year’s Eve and only grew as the Eagles ran off three more consecutive wins, including another in the postseason in early 2002.
Tampa Bay finally reversed the trend in a big way in January 2003, earning a trip to the Super Bowl by slamming the Eagles 27-10 in the NFC Championship Game and ensuring the last NFL football game ever played at Veterans Stadium was a Bucs win.
That still doesn’t mean Philly and its fan base is despised any less by much of the Bucs faithful. And it’s not just because of a few disappointing losses. It’s the fans themselves and their dedicated but unflattering and ugly reputation that’s well-known throughout the sports world.
No current Bucs players were around during those early 2000’s years. Most were somewhere between high school and grade school, so they don’t harbor the same feelings of fans. Plenty of veterans have been to Lincoln Financial Field, however, and are familiar with the atmosphere that awaits.
“I played with the Cowboys last year, so it was fun. It’s rowdy,” said defensive tackle Henry Melton. “They love their Eagles up there so we’re excited to play up there and hopefully leave with a W.”
“They’ve got a good fan base,” said center Joe Hawley, who played in Philadelphia twice as a member of the Falcons. “They have a lot of tradition there and they get loud. It’s a hostile environment and we need to be ready to play for sure.”
The conference title victory in 2003 also marked the first time any Bucs team won a game when the mercury dipped below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s not anticipated to be that nippy at kickoff Sunday, but the National Weather Service is calling for temperatures in the high 40s.
While the heat and humidity has begun to break locally, plenty of Bucs said they’re looking forward to playing in jacket weather this weekend.
“I love cold games,” said receiver Mike Evans. “You don’t sweat as much and you’ve got more energy. I get an IV most games because of the heat and I want to get a little extra juice, but cold games, I like those a lot.”
What qualifies as “cold” to players differs, though. Evans, born in Galveston, Texas, probably doesn’t have quite the tolerance to low temps as rookie right guard Ali Marpet, of Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.
“I don’t know how cold it’s going to be,” Marpet said. “I’m used to playing in the snow at this point. At Hobart [College] there’s usually snow at this time, so it’s weird playing and it’s still humid and hot.”